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Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Senators in G.O.P. Voice New Doubt on Court Choice - New York Times

Senators in G.O.P. Voice New Doubt on Court Choice - New York TimesOctober 26, 2005
Senators in G.O.P. Voice New Doubt on Court Choice

WASHINGTON, Oct. 25 - The drumbeat of doubt from Republican senators over the Supreme Court nomination of Harriet E. Miers grew louder Tuesday as several lawmakers, including a pivotal conservative on the Judiciary Committee, joined those expressing concerns about her selection.

Emerging from a weekly luncheon of Republican senators in which they discussed the nomination, several lawmakers suggested that as Ms. Miers continued her visits on Capitol Hill, she was not winning over Republican lawmakers.

"I am uneasy about where we are," said Senator Jeff Sessions, an Alabama Republican on the Judiciary Committee who had so far expressed only support for the president's choice. "Some conservative people are concerned. That is pretty obvious."

Senator John Thune, Republican of South Dakota, called Republican sentiment toward Ms. Miers's nomination "a question mark."

"There is an awful lot of Republican senators who are saying we are going to wait and see," he said.

Senator Norm Coleman, a Minnesota Republican in the political middle of his party, said he needed "to get a better feel for her intellectual capacity and judicial philosophy, core competence issues."

"I certainly go into this with concerns," Mr. Coleman said.

Coming less than two weeks before confirmation hearings, the public questioning by Republican senators may be an ominous sign. Of the 10 Republicans on the 18-member Judiciary Committee, Mr. Sessions joins two others who have publicly raised concerns: Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas has questioned her legal views on abortion rights, and the committee chairman, Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, has said Ms. Miers could benefit from a "crash course in constitutional law."

Several Republican aides, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals, said two other Republican committee members, Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona, had privately raised questions about her judicial philosophy. Both declined to comment on their views of her.

And leaving the lunch meeting on Tuesday, Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina and a Judiciary Committee member, acknowledged that senators who had met with Ms. Miers were telling colleagues that they had been unimpressed. "She needs to step it up a notch," Mr. Graham said.

Senator Trent Lott, Republican of Mississippi, said there was not much enthusiasm for the nomination among Senate Republicans, although most had "held their fire."

Many prominent conservatives have criticized the nomination or called for its withdrawal, and one conservative group plans on Wednesday to start a week of radio and television advertising urging Ms. Miers's withdrawal.

At a Republican National Committee dinner on Tuesday night, President Bush restated his support for Ms. Miers, calling her "a really fine person" and "a good practicing attorney" who "will strictly interpret the Constitution of the United States."

Ms. Miers also has champions on the Judiciary Committee, most notably her friend Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, and Senator Orrin G. Hatch, Republican of Utah. Senator Mike DeWine, an Ohio Republican on the committee, said on Tuesday that she was a qualified nominee who deserved a hearing before the Senate.

No Republican senator has publicly suggested that she withdraw. But on Tuesday some offered notably neutral comments about the question.

"To support the withdrawal would be a rebuke of the president, not her, because she has not said anything yet, so that is a slam on the president, not Harriet Miers, so I don't think any Republican wants to do that," Senator Graham observed.

"The message being delivered from the White House," he added, is that she will not withdraw before the confirmation hearings."

Ms. Miers faces a deadline of Wednesday to comply with a request from Mr. Specter and Senator Patrick J. Leahy, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, for fuller answers to her judicial questionnaire and documents relating to her work in the White House. Mr. Specter has said he believes Ms. Miers could provide some documents and other information without unduly violating the confidentiality of White House deliberations.

But at the Republican dinner on Tuesday night, Mr. Bush restated that he did not intend to provide them. "Asking for those documents is a red line, as far as I'm concerned, in protecting the White House and the ability to operate," he said.

In an interview Tuesday, Mr. Hatch, a former chairman of the committee, argued that Republicans had previously opposed the arguments for disclosure that Mr. Specter was making. "I am just surprised that there are some on our side using it, after we have established that principle," Mr. Hatch said.

But other conservatives who said they supported the administration's stance also said that the lack of information about Ms. Miers's work there could make it harder for her. "It is going to be incumbent on her to get as much information to Republicans as possible in response, particularly, to some of the fundamental constitutional issues," Mr. Thune said. "She has really got to raise the comfort level around here.

Ms. Miers faced challenges from Democrats as well. After meeting with her on Tuesday evening, Senator Russell D. Feingold, a Wisconsin Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, expressed frustration that she had declined to discuss any of her White House work. "There is a kind of a hard line coming from the White House on this that is actually to her detriment," Mr. Feingold said.

Ms. Miers "did a decent job" discussing cases about the scope of federal power under the Constitution's commerce clause, he said, but stopped short of disclosing her own views. And he said she had been either unwilling or unable to discuss issues about the Constitution in a time of war, separation of church and state, and potential recusals if matters she had worked on came before the court.

Asked if the debate had become "one-sided," with too few defending Ms. Miers, Senator Sessions, the Alabama Republican, struggled for words, then pushed a button for a nearby elevator in the Capitol building and told an aide, "Get me out of here."


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